- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

According to recent studies, Latino immigrants sent a record $23 billion in remittances home in 2001, despite a tough economy and supposedly increased security on the border. Of that amount, more than $14 billion went to Mexico and Central America alone, up $4 billion from just two years ago.
While substantial money hemorrhages out of America, border-area hospitals have been overwhelmed by the needs of these same generous immigrants, who can afford to part with an average of $300 per money transfer. Dozens of hospitals in the border area face bankruptcy or have already gone under because of the costs of uncompensated care given to illegal aliens. The U.S.-Mexico Border Counties Coalition released a study this fall showing that illegal alien treatment costs were $190 million in 2000 for 77 border hospitals.
Why not tax the excess money of the remittance senders to help make up the millions of dollars lost by American hospitals in the treatment of indigent illegal aliens? Adding a 10 percent to 15 percent fee to the cost of wiring money to foreign countries and earmarking it for struggling border hospitals would be a great help. It would fairly charge the people who use those health services and relieve a tiny bit of the burden of American taxpayers who already are forced to pay billions of dollars to subsidize cheap-labor aliens.
Not nearly enough attention has been paid to the remittance situation by Washington policy-makers. While the cash outflow may appear to have immediate benefits to recipient countries, the practice is damaging in the long term, particularly to Mexico. Remittances are the visible symptom of a dysfunctional system of national dependency that helps keep the corrupt Mexican oligarchy in power.
It's quite a scam, really the worse Mexicans run their nation, the more its citizens escape north and send home remittance cash. As this system has become more entrenched, the elite ruling class has no reason to change their irresponsible ways because there are no demands from the people to enact political and economic reform. The rich grow richer and the poor await remittance checks.
And make no mistake: Mexico is a very rich country. According to the 2002 report of the Latin Business Chronicle, Mexico is home to nearly half of all Latin America's billionaires (out of a total of 25, 12 are Mexican). Part of the solution to Mexico's malaise would be massive investment in education and infrastructure, following the example of the successful Asian tiger economies. But, that would require money and might mean a financial burden on the hyper-rich. Instead, the Mexican kleptocracy is anxious to maintain the cash infusion from busboys and maids.
An insightful wag once remarked that foreign aid was the redistribution of wealth from the poor of a rich nation to the rich of a poor country. Double ditto that sentiment for the system of remittances and American taxpayers who live near Mexico. Mexicans have more money to send home because they don't have to pay for health care that service is provided by American taxpayers, despite their objections. So, when el Presidente Vincente Fox demands that his people living illegally in the United States deserve "dignity," what he really means is more free services so Mexicans will have additional excess cash to send home.
Mexico's gain is America's loss. More than 40 million American citizens do not have health insurance, while they pay in their tax bills for free medical care for Mexican nationals, many of whom are illegally working at American jobs a double-dip rip off. Furthermore, hospitals closing and emergency rooms crowded with illegal aliens mean that an American needing speedy treatment may have to wait far longer to receive it. Such delays can mean the difference between life and death in emergencies.
There is money available to help these hospitals in crisis. Taxing remittances 10 percent to 15 percent per transaction would be fair because the cost would fall on those who benefit. What's needed is congressional leadership that can recognize this opportunity and seize it.

Brenda Walker is the publisher of www.ImmigrationsHumanCost.org.

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